Category Archives: Book Reviews

City of Girls #BookReview

Book: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

This is my second book by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat Pray Love and I didn’t much care for it. I then tried liking the film but I just about managed to get through it only because Julia Roberts is one of my absolute favourite actresses.

So it was with much trepidation that I picked up City of Girls, on the assurance that it wasn’t like her previous work at all. That did prove accurate, for this one really is very different.

The story

19- year-old Vivian Morris arrives in New York to live with her aunt Peg who owns and runs Lily Playhouse, a theatre company. From her small town existence, Vivian is pushed into this new exciting world peopled with amazingly colourful characters – actors, script writers, musicians and the most magnificent showgirls. Being an extraordinarily talented seamstress she fits right in. She falls in love with New York and with this new life of hers. She cannot have enough of it. Every night she traipses through it in a haze of men and alcohol savouring every moment of this new found freedom far from her parents and her small town upbringing.

Then one night she makes a mistake. A mistake so huge that nothing can set it right. Not only does it cause a massive scandal but also changes her life completely.

It brings to Vivian, a maturity as well, and a new understanding of herself and of what she wants from life.

What I liked

The book traces Vivian’s journey through life. In that sense it can be termed a bit of a coming-of-age book, only it goes much beyond, following Vivian into old age. It is also a bit of historical fiction with the backdrop of WWII during part of the narrative. Most of all it describes New York City and its growth over the years in fascinating detail.

However, for me, the best part of the book was the Lily Playhouse. Quite like Vivian I was taken in by running of a theatre company and the people who inhabited the world. Each character big and small added to the setting making it come alive, while retaining a special place for herself/himself. 

I loved the bits where Vivian scouted for clothes turning them into beautiful creations and the way the entire team at Lily Playhouse comes together to put on a hit play. I loved Aunt Peg. New York of the 1940s was enchanting and I could see exactly why Vivian was so enamoured of it.

What could have been better

The first half of the book, though fast paced had pages and pages of descriptions of Vivian’s night-outs and that grew tedious – sex and alcohol and then some more sex, till I grew tired of it. The book slows down in the second half and then it tends to drag.

The saddest part though was that I couldn’t warm up to Vivian. Oh there were many pluses to her character – she was spunky and adventurous and a good enough friend, but she was annoyingly immature. Perhaps that was the way her character was supposed to be in the beginning but I didn’t grow to care for her even in her grown-up avatar. Her obsession with having a ‘good time’ continued to irk me, quite similar to Liz of Eat Pray Love.

I couldn’t even connect with the great romance/friendship Vivian finds towards the end of the book.

All in all Gilbert’s heroines don’t seem to be on my list of favourites.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the ‘free hit’ prompt.

Last thought: A racy read yet pretty meh. Avoidable.

The Lunar Chronicles #BookReview

So I am done with the Lunar Chronicles. Finally! What a ride it has been! A tiny bit lengthy towards the end but all in all a fun enjoyable adrenaline pumping adventure.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this series Lunar is a set of four young adult futuristic novels – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter – loosely based on four fairy tales.

I was done with the first book last year but I read the other three in quick succession over a week. In my mind this is a single long story, which is why it makes sense to review the books together. I promise to keep it short.

First, here’s what the books are about:

The Setting

The stories are set in the future. Earth is tormented by a plague that threatens to wipe off the entire population.

Meanwhile, the Moon has been colonised, is called Luna and is inhabited by Lunars. Peace between the Earthens and Lunars is a tenuous thing with the powerful Lunar queen wanting to take over Earth. With that in mind she is looking for an alliance with the Prince (later King) Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth (China). Lunars are adept in the art of mind control which makes them formidable enemies. There is also a dead/missing princess believed to be the true heir to the Lunar throne.

Cinder

The story begins with Cinder (obviously Cinderella), who is a Cyborg (part human part machine) and lives with her adoptive mother and two step sisters in New Beijing. She’s an exceptionally talented mechanic and meets Prince Kai when he comes to her to get his android repaired. Then on, secrets are revealed and Cinder has a confrontation with the Lunar queen resulting in her imprisonment and subsequent escape.

Scarlet

The book opens with Cinder, who’s on the run along with an accomplice from the prison, Thorne. The story then moves to a small farm in France where we get to meet Scarlet Benoit. Her tale meshes seamlessly with that of Cinder as they get ready to take on the Lunar Queen.

Cress

Cinder is still on the run and is slowly building a team to help her. Cress, a Lunar, computer whiz, joins her in this book. 

Winter 

This last one is the culmination of the series and we meet our last protagonist Princess Winter, step daughter of the Lunar Queen. The book spirals towards a showdown with between Cinder and the Lunar Queen and the inevitable happily ever after – just as a young adult adventure series should.

What I loved

Books set in the future are my newest obsession. Needless to say that I enjoyed the setting of future earth as also Lunar colonisation which gave a Hunger Games kind of a feel but then the story was so very different that it didn’t get tedious.

The fairy tale twist

I adored the way the fairy tales were integrated in the stories. Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White – I loved them all.

The characters

Were the bestest part of the books. They were all adorable and very differently so. If I had to choose a single strongest feature that endeared the series to me, it would have to be the characters. And if I had one complaint, it would be that some of them didn’t get enough space in the book, specially Princess Winter.

The humour

Humour, if done well, can uplift most genres of story-telling and Meyer uses it so well here. When the narrative begin to lag, and there are bits when they do that, it’s the humour that carries the story through. (Thorne and Iko remain my favourite characters, for that reason. You’ll know what I mean if/when you read the books).

The issues thrown up

The books talk about discrimination, about cyborgs being look down upon, about the transience of physical beauty and about the stupidity of judging people based on stereotypes. All pertinent issues in the current times.

What could have been better

I have no complaints from the first two books. 

Cinder was absolutely smashing. It did a wonderful job of setting the scene and building the story, leaving the reader at a cliff-hangar, craving for more.

Scarlet was good too with the introduction of endearing new characters.

Cress, however, grew tedious in bits, a case of ‘too many twists spoil the plot’. You just wanted to skim through the pages fast and get to the inevitable end.

Winter, despite being a mammoth read, didn’t have much about Princess Winter. Also, the layout of Luna and the Lunar palace, described in much detail during the chase sequences, grew cumbersome. It had me completely lost and I zoned out in a haze of doors and archways and escalators of the Lunar palace. Perhaps it should have been broken down into two separate books – one on Winter and one to gather together the grand finale.

That said, I’d definitely recommend the series. It’s a glimpse into a new world, coupled with the fairy tale twist and a page turning story.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it. And with this I’m done with three prompts:
A Book that’s part of a series
A Book set in the past or the future
A YA Book

Last thought: A must for readers of fantasy fiction.

The Crimson Meniscus #BookReview

Book: The Crimson Meniscus
Author: Jason Werbeloff

The Crimson Meniscus is a set of six dystopian sci-fi short stories.

Before I go on to tell you what the book is about let me talk a little bit about the setting. So sometime in the future there’s a place called The Bubble protected by and separated from the rest of the world by a force field. The Bubble is the land of plenty with wine fountains and automated hover cabs where the inhabitants live a luxurious life. 

Then there’s The Gutter, home to the poor and destitute who struggle for survival. They are beholden to the state for their very existence. Their organs are routinely ‘harvested’ for the inhabitants of The Bubble, and replaced by low-quality generic ‘printed’ organs. The Bubble isn’t even visible to the Gutter inhabitants without special glasses.

The divide is complete.

It is in this setting that Jason Werbeloff weaves his stories – dark, twisted and gory.

What I liked

I like books set in an alternate universe. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I find it intriguing how an author sets out to build a whole different world limited only by his imagination and yet manages to make it plausible for the reader. Here he does it deftly, meticulously and I was drawn right in.

Also, the stories have unexpectedly twisted ending. They talk about how the world is being taken over by technology and the dangers therein. They talk about the frightening results of meddling with the natural order of things. I specially liked that most of them present the reader with a moral dilemma of sorts with grey areas that keep one trying to figure the right from the wrong.

Most of all, even beyond what the individual stories talk about, the book brings home in horrifying reality how terrible the world can become if we shut ourselves in our own small secure ‘bubbles’ of existence. In the alternate universe created by the author the rich struggle with problems that come with privilege, problems of excess – a lung gone bad, a heart that’s dying out. They proceed to buy organs without a twinge, without for a moment wondering what happens to the people from whom the organs are harvested. They are completely indifferent to the people from the Gutter and unaware of their own privilege. Because, to them, that’s just the way life is.

That was my biggest takeaway from the book, a shocking realisation of what the world can become if the privileged continue to apathetically cordon themselves off from the underprivileged.

The one thing I didn’t quite like ..

….was the gore and I skipped paragraphs to avoid it. That said, I have to add that I have an unusually low tolerance for it and I do get that it was perhaps required in order to shock and appal the reader. And it did that with success. 

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it. This is my book for Prompt 1 – a book from a genre I usually avoid.

Last thought: If you like dark, twisted dystopian stories, this one’s for you.

The Bell Jar, Metamorphosis #MicroReview

Here are two books both critically acclaimed, yet both didn’t work for me.

Book: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath

I picked up The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it’s said to be a modern-day classic and also because it’s the only book written by the author. When an author writes just one book, it is often close to her/his true self and that’s a treat to read.

The book introduces us to the bright young Esther Greenwood who is in New York on a writing scholarship. It traces her journey as she tries to fit in, to do things expected of her but fails. She finds she can neither be a true blue society girl nor a ‘good’ girl. Flitting somewhere in the middle, she loses her real self. She tries to fit into societal moulds but feels suffocated by them(like she’s under a bell jar, hence the name of the book). Then on begins her spiral into depression, slowly and surely, as she lets go of one opportunity after another. Finally she finds herself in a mental facility, struggling to regain her balance.

I found it hard to connect with Esther. She is so confused about what she wants from life. Perhaps one needs to be in a specific state of mind to understand and appreciate her, perhaps one needs to have experienced some of that depression to truly empathise. Or perhaps Plath spilt her own disinterest in life into the book. That might be a  testimony of the honesty with which it is written but it renders this a hard book to read.

Book: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka

This is as unusual a book as they can get. It talks about Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a vermin. Interestingly, we don’t even know whether it was actually a vermin or an insect of some kind because the book is originally written in German and Kafka is known to use words that keep baffling translators.

Moving on, Gregor’s change scares and disgusts his parents and Grete, his sister. Grete, initially shows some concern leaving food for him and at least noticing if he was eating or not. She even tries to make his room a little comfortable for this new version of him. His father has to begin going to work again as does Grete while his mother has to take up sewing assignments to run the house. A depressed Gregor gives up eating and finally meets his end and his family moves on living together happily.

This is a less than 100 page book but boy, it proved hard to read. Like The Bell Jar, I couldn’t empathise with Gregor, perhaps because I come from an entry difference space as compared to him. The book reflects Kafka’s dissatisfaction with his own life, stuck in a nine-to-five job routine which, he felt, took away from his true love which was writing. It also shows his real life alienation from his family. With that background, I could get some understanding of the book but it still remained too dark for my taste.

Lock Every Door #BookReview

Book: Lock Every Door 
Author: Riley Sager

I never gave thrillers much thought till a few manuscripts came to me for editing and I realised I completely enjoyed them. The only problem – if the book turns out to be good I find myself unable to put it down and that completely upsets my routine. Now if I find a highly recommended thriller I make sure I have a day or two at my disposal when I begin reading. That’s worked out fine for me.

And that’s how I began reading Lock Every Door on a relaxed Friday.

The Story

Life hasn’t being good to Jules Larson. First, her sister disappears then she loses her parents in an accident. Even as she’s trying to make peace with all of that she’s let go from her job. She comes home to find her boyfriend cheating on her and her life falls apart completely. She’s been rooming in with her friend Chloe when she spots an ad for an apartment-sitter in the poshest apartment complex of Manhattan – The Bartholomew. The building houses the richest and the most famous people who value their privacy above all else. The money is very very good but there are few rules to be followed – no night-outs, no visitors, no talking to the other residents. They seem simple enough, if a little weird, and a bankrupt, desperate, Jules accepts them eagerly. She looks upon it as the ‘reset button’ for her life.

Soon, however, she realises all is not right at the Bartholomew. It’s an indefinable feeling she can’t quite reason out. Is it prompted by the gargoyle at her window on the facade of the building? Is it the strange wallpaper design in her apartment? Is it the unexplained noises at night? Or is it just her imagination fuelled by Chloe’s warnings and media stories that insist that the building is cursed?

Then a fellow apartment-sitter, Ingrid, disappears and Jules cannot but begin to investigate.

What I loved

The most interesting part of the book is that barely anything scary actually happened for much of the early part of the book. And yet I was on edge waiting for something to happen, trying to read between the lines, urging Jules on to look around, to be careful, maybe even to get out. Part of me wanted her to find out if Bartholomew really was cursed or haunted, and if yes, why. The other part wanted Jules to stay away from everything, get her money and leave. I could see why she’d want to hang around despite the warning signals.

Bartholomew reminded me a little bit of Rebecca’s Manderley. It has a character of its own as much as its inmates. I loved the way Sager describes it. The gothic structure, its air of opulence, the luxurious apartments, the secrecy, the snobbish flat owners – it all comes together in an intriguing mix.

I liked Jules. I felt her closeness to her sister and her heartbreak at her disappearance. Which is why I could understand her desperation to find Ingrid.

Lock Every Door isn’t a pacey read yet the tension keeps one hooked.

Last thought: If you’re looking for an edge-of-the-seat atmospheric thriller, this ones for you.

Eating Wasps #microreview

Book: Eating Wasps
Author: Anita Nair

You know what’s the best feeling in the world? To pick up a book you’ve not heard of, to pick it up without any expectations, any background, any social media hoohaa. And then to find in it a story that by turns hits you hard, touches you, empowers you. That’s what Eating Wasps did for me.

I was driven to read it simply by its stunningly gorgeous cover. Then the opening line reeled me in:

“On the day I killed myself, it was clear and bright.” 

How can you ignore that?

If you’ve read Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe you’ll know how adept she is at bringing together women centric stories. That’s what she does with Eating Wasps too.

The book opens with an award winning author Sreelakshmi committing suicide. And yet her life doesn’t end. She lives on as a ghost, a piece of a bone. As she flits from the hands of one woman to another she sees, she feels and she tells their story, bringing them together in a delightful read.

The book has multiple characters – girls, teens, women – each the protagonist of her own story, with her own challenges – sometimes internal, sometimes familial, sometimes societal.

My heart broke for Megha while Najma, who had the saddest story of all, made my heart soar. Maya was only too real, a flawed woman, an imperfect mom even as she debates what’s best for her son. Urvashi, Liliana, Brinda – each one has a story to tell.

The book isn’t perfect. The stories don’t come together as seamlessly as I’d have liked them to. Also, it could have done without a character or two while I’d have liked to know more about some of the others. Some of the stories are explored only too briefly, leaving me dissatisfied. And yet it’s a book worth reading because each story is special.

Last thought: Worth a read.

The Mummy Bloggers #BookReview

Book: The Mummy Bloggers
Author: Holly Wainwright

When you love reading and are a book blogger and a parent blogger too and you see a book titled The Mummy bloggers, well then you just pick it up. And so I did. That’s a lot of ‘ands’ I know, but there were a lot of things about this book that appealed to me.

It tells the story

..of three mom bloggers, all in completely different sub-niches of their own.

There’s – Elle, formerly Ellen, but then Elle, is more chic, no? And being chic is crucial for Elle. She lives in a #perfectworld. She has perfectly baked #homemadebrownies, which aren’t homemade at all and which she won’t ever eat because she also has to instagram her #perfectabs. She has a pair of #perfectbabies who dress in matching (and sponsored, obviously!) clothes. All in all she has a perfect life with SomebodyElse’sHusband. Opps sorry, that was her original anonymous blog, before she married Somebody Else’s Husband and made him her own, turning into #stylishmumma herself.

Then there’s Abi the #GreenDiva who has moved to the country with her partner Grace and their children. She has a farm where chickens run around, she homeschools her children and fights against processed food, vaccinations and all things ‘Big Pharma’. No matter that her own children are safely vaccinated.

Lastly there’s Leisel Adams a #workingmom in her forties. She has a full time job managing the demands of a millennial younger-than-her boss as well as a baby, a toddler and a kindergartener at home. Also in her life is #wonderdad, her stay at home husband. That she manages to blog is a wonder in itself.

So our protagonists are blogging away happily, secure in their own little worlds with their own followers and their own trolls too. Along comes a blogging award that nominates the three of them and upsets this delicate balance because there can only be one winner. On offer is a huge cash prize. An all-out anything-goes mommy war breaks out, the war to grab the most eyeballs in order to stay in the forefront of the hearts and minds of mommy’s of the world wide web. Unbelievable lies will be told and lives will be threatened in this war.

What I liked

This was a super fun ride. It was a familiar world, a world I love and enjoy and am a part of, even if in a rather peripheral way. I’ve seen rough prototypes of the three moms.

I loved the characters and the idea of niches within a niche. The book brought to light the social media addiction a lot of bloggers succumb to, living in a world of hashtags. That itch to check how many people responded to that last tweet, the last update, the latest post, that need for constant validation from relative strangers – that was very real. As also the danger of trolls.

Abi gives sound advice (?) for grabbing eye-balls in a crowded world:

…. the only way to get anyone to listen to you was to keep it simple and shout the loudest. Clouding your argument with nuance was the road to oblivion .…

Make the world black and white, take sides, stick to them, fight for them. It’s interesting how she goes about doing just this and gets caught up in a complicated web.

I loved Elle’s track for highlighting what a fake world it is out there. Reading about her was annoying and funny and, towards the end, crazily frustratingly unbelievable.

Leisel was a personal favourite perhaps because she was the most identifiable and the most genuine of the lot. Take for instance her worry that the children liked Wonder Dad better than her and yet she is relieved when baby wants only ‘daddy’ to put her to bed and then right away she’s guilty for feeling relieved. That emotional see-sawing is only too familiar.

Of course it’s all exaggerated, hugely exaggerated in the latter part, but I still maintain this was a fun read.

I’ll give it one extra star for delivering what it promised.

Last thought: If you’re a blogger looking for a light read, pick this one. If you’re not, you still might enjoy the laughs.